200 2020 days

As we head towards the end of 2020, I predict many write-ups will state it was a year like no other. I’ll hold judgement on that—we haven’t had 2021 yet, after all. December is, however, the time of year when annual round-ups happen, and for me, one of the most interesting projects I have seen in the last 12 months has been by Becky King.

King is Creative Director at the London office of branding agency Dragon Rouge, and has spent much of this year sharing her responses to being in lockdown on her Instagram account. While this itself has been hugely engaging, where I felt the real impact of what she was producing was in publishing a newspaper collecting together most of her experiments.

Titled 2020 XXXX, and wrapped by a cover of photographs taken on her #coronawalks, the inside is a 60 page visual riot of graphic design with King responding to events daily through type, colour and shape. Although she claims that this is a ‘short visual diary’, the word ‘short’ seems misjudged given the extent of the explorations that follow.

“What can I say?”, King rhetorically asks in the newspaper’s opening pages. “2020. It’s been emotional. Antibacterial. Irrational. Mental. Physical. Political. Antisocial. Dysfunctional. Unnatural. Controversial. Economical. Visual. Inspirational.” That such a statement starts this document is entirely appropriate, given the fact that word-play is at the heart of much of what follows. Focussing in on specific aspects of the language evolving out of Covid-19, pushing the textual and visual possibilities of specific phrases, King leaves no word unturned.

Claiming this collection as: “200+ posters of thoughts, emotions, mumblings, experiments and graphic sketches”, King has used well chosen descriptors. 2020 XXXX is all of those, and I particularly like the phrase ‘mumblings’. The frivolity of such an adjective, coming directly after the word emotion, lightens the tone, but King’s emotions are in plain sight throughout. The visual over-load in itself reminds the viewer of what we have, and continue to, collectively live through. The ‘new normal’ is a moniker I have come to despise, but if we all relaxed as we get used to our new normal, this is, collectively at least, a powerful reminder of the reality of our circumstances.

ACDHE review—The graphic design process

Image: Bloomsbury

I recently wrote a review of the 2019 Bloomsbury title: The Graphic Design Process: How to be Successful in Design School by Anitra Nottingham and Jeremy Stout, for the journal Art, Communication & Design in Higher Education.

The book explores the design process through varying approaches to graphic design education—from brief to crit to exploratory practice to presenting outcomes—with contributions from university and college lecturers from around the world.

The review is available to purchase here, and the journal here.

Thoughts on discussions on criticism

Design criticism is often discussed within design circles. Such pondering on the topic has been brilliantly, and I can’t help think sarcastically, summed up in the title of a 4-way debate recently published in AIGA’s Eye on Design journal (2018, the Gossip issue). The article was called: What We Talk About When We Talk About Talking About Design.

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Image: Eye on Design, AIGA

There is a concern amongst some designers and academics, or you could call it a chip-on-their-shoulders, that graphic design criticism isn’t given the same level of respect as other, more highbrow artistic disciplines. The Eye On Design article itself raises this in its introduction stating: “We [graphic design] still side-eye art, architecture, and literature, wondering why design doesn’t have quite as robust a history of criticism.” (2018, p21.) It is a shame that such a discussion comes up time and time again when graphic design writing is being discussed. I am constantly bemused that we do not just accept that graphic design should be judged on its own terms, and not on those of other disciplines. Cultural and academic elitism is something we can circumnavigate by simply ignoring such questions.

Reclaim the sheets

While some may praise Lush for its recent #SpyCops poster campaign, having your own shop window to deliver a political campaign message in is a luxury most do not have. Now, the non-shop owning agitpropper can turn to Brandalism, who have launched a Subvertising Manual that shows anyone how to reclaim visual spaces from advertisers by replacing 6-sheet adverts with their own artwork.

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Taking aim at the backlit hoardings most frequently seen at bus stops, the manual tells you everything you need to know to hang your own work in these spaces. Subtitled What You Need And How To Do It, it discusses what tools are required to open the displays; artwork sizes for the majority of bus shelter hoardings, (advertising lingo calls these 6-sheets); what to wear and the best times of day to hang your work to avoid getting caught; and where you can find information online so your work stays up as long as possible.

A (very) graphic memoir

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Image: courtesy paulsahre.com

I’ve just finished reading Paul Sahre’s autobiography: Two-Dimensional Man: A Graphic Memoir, and it is one of the most untypical graphic design related books I have ever read. ‘Untypical’ because for much of the book Sahre writes about his personal and private life; and graphic design ‘related’ because, at times, his profession seems incidental to the main narrative. For this is no design monograph as he weaves stories about his first car; his family; his relationships; and even his dog Sid, in and out of talking about his graphic design practice. Most powerfully, hanging over the entire book from cover to cover, is Sahre’s relationship with his brother.

The museum of things

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Today I visited the Design Museum in its new Kensington home. Primarily going to see the Design of the Year 2016 show with students, being a big fan of the museum, I was also keen to see how the relocation from Shad Thames had been managed.

There is much in the move to the former Commonwealth Institute building that is impressive. It is an incredible site and there is real drama as you enter the huge atrium and look up at the stunning roof. This drama only expands as you move on up through the floors.

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As I expected, the Design of the Year show is excellent,  with some truly inspirational work on display. The exhibition benefits from the larger space with a better flow around the exhibits giving more time to linger and read each project’s background. Equally, it was good to see the collection on display under the title: Designer Maker User. I was particularly impressed with the 3 screen film that critically questioned design’s role in climate change while putting forward different views on what is to do about this dilemma. This, I felt, was the museum taking seriously criticisms that can be levelled against many sectors of design.